Rioja

Rioja in Northern Spain is best known for berry-scented, barrel-aged red wines made from Tempranillo and Garnacha. It is arguably Spain's top wine region. It is certainly the most famous, rivaled only by Jerez. The vineyards trace the course of the Ebro River for roughly 100 kilometers (60 miles) between the towns of Haro and Alfaro.

Other than Tempranillo and Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan) are also used in red Rioja wines. A few wineries, notably Marqués de Riscal, use small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon. White grapes are much less widely planted.

The Rioja wine region is contained mostly within the La Rioja administrative region, through which the Rio Oja river flows. However its northernmost vineyards are sited in neighboring Navarra and Pais Vasco (Basque Country). The region is demarcated less by political and administrative boundaries and more by geographical features. Among these the most relevant are the Ebro and foothills of the Sierra de la Demanda and Sierra de Cantabria mountain ranges. The Cantabrian Mountains, which flank Rioja to the north and west, provide shelter from cold, wet influences of the Atlantic Ocean. This is a significant factor in the local climate, which is significantly warmer and drier than that just to the north. The region's soils vary from place to place, with the finest containing high levels of limestone.

The amount of time that a Rioja wine spends in barrel dictates which of the official Rioja aging categories goes on the label: Joven, Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva.

Rioja Joven wines are intended for consumption within two years of vintage. They spend little or no time in oak – jóven is Spanish for "young". This category may also include wines which have undergone aging, but for some other reason do not gain certifications for the higher categories. Many modern juicy, everyday reds fit into this category. Some of these are made using a variant of carbonic maceration.

Crianza red wines are aged for at least one year in oak, and one year in bottle. They are released in the third year. White Crianza wines must also be aged for two years but only six months needs to be in casks.

Reserva red wines spend a minimum of one year in oak. They cannot be sent to market until a full three years after vintage. The white Reserva wines need only spend six months of the three years in casks.

Gran Reserva red wines undergo a total of five years' aging with at least two years spent in barrel. The white counterparts must age for at least four years, with a minimum of 12 months in casks.The amount of time that a Rioja wine spends in barrel dictates which of the official Rioja aging categories goes on the label: Joven, Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva.

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